Netanyahu Would Roll Back Some Palestinian Powers MIDDLE EAST

Article excerpt

Nineteen years ago Menachem Begin defeated Shimon Peres, becoming Israel's first Likud prime minister. One of Begin's first official acts was to travel to Elon Moreh, a rough Israeli settlement perched on a hilltop outside Nablus. There, among the faithful, Begin proclaimed victory on behalf of the proponents of Greater Israel.

"There will be many more Elon Morehs," he thundered. "This is liberated Israeli land, and we call on young volunteers ... to come and settle here."

Today Greater Israel is dead, defeated by the intifadah (uprising), and buried by the Oslo agreements. While Yasser Arafat dreams of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, while Shimon Peres keeps nursing the hope of a "New Middle East," Begin's heir, Benjamin Netanyahu, admits Likud's dream of Greater Israel is beyond his grasp. "We are entering into an era in which we have to recognize that we cannot always fulfill our dreams," Netanyahu told the Jerusalem Post shortly before his election.

The new prime minister has endorsed the Oslo II accords' core compromise. He accepts Palestinian control over the principal cities of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as long as the future of Israel's settlements and 150,000 settlers is secured. Yet while Netanyahu is prepared to accept less than a total Israeli victory in the occupied territories, he is determined to exploit Israel's power to secure a position of preeminence throughout the region.

A new fault line

Prime Ministers Rabin and Peres wanted to end Israel's battle with the Arabs before Iran or Iraq entered the nuclear age. They saw Israel and most Arab states united by an antipathy toward the Islamic revival. For the new Israeli government, the primary fault line remains Israel's struggle for security in a region dominated by hostile states. Netanyahu backs a "realistic" peace between enemies, not a reconciliation among erstwhile friends.

Netanyahu believes that this is particularly the case with the Jordanians, with whom he has cultivated a close relationship since 1993. He supports strengthening what he describes as the "strategic consensus" linking the two countries. The core of this, he maintains, is their mutual opposition to the creation of a Palestinian state in their midst.

But Netanyahu is a product of Likud's less-militant wing. He witnessed the debacle of Likud's policies in Lebanon from 1982 to '85. In this year's fighting, he did not support proposals for ground forces to extend Israeli control north of its "security zone."

Netanyahu is no stranger to the use of force as a foreign-policy tool. This is key to Israel's new policy toward Syria. For it is over Syria where Likud's differences with Labor are most pronounced. Netanyahu does not believe that the circle must be closed with Syria before Israel's enemies add the next generation of missiles and unconventional weapons to their arsenals. As long as the Israeli Defense Force remains on the Golan Heights, he believes, the Syrians "do not have the option of war."

Netanyahu repudiates Peres's admission that the "Golan is Syrian. …

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